The Threepenny Opera
Book by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill

Dates and Venue 12 - 21 March 2009 @ 8pm | Capilano Theatre for Performing Arts

Director Gillian Barber, Musical Director Kevin Richard Cripps Costume Design Angela Bright, Lighting Mike Scriven, Set Design Drew Facey Stage Management Karen Chrobok

Reviewer John Jane

It was pretty obvious when first looking upon Drew Facey’s visually striking scenic design of dilapidated red-brick viaducts that this mounting of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera would be set in antediluvian, pre-Victorian London. But if it wasn’t, then the young female cast members performing in character and doubling as ushers, while providing some light pre-show entertainment, left no doubt.

This dark satire about capitalist exploitation was first performed in Berlin exactly halfway between the two world wars as Die Dreigroschenoper in its original German language. It’s probably not intentional, but in the light of disgraced financiers making the news, EXIT22’s presentation could not be more current. Brecht uses his “epic theatre” to propound the question: Who is worse? He who robs a bank or he who owns one?

Rosie Simon who works well as the cynical, omnipresent narrator, Street Singer opens the show with what is arguably its best known song, "The Ballad of Mack the Knife" while descending on to the stage from the middle of the auditorium.

There is an explicit, deliberate vulgarity in Kurt Weill's mocking, avant-garde jazz score. These mordant songs with their twisting, complex lyrics can be demanding even for seasoned performers. So, it is to their credit that this talented cast handled the music with such élan.

Stand-out performances come from Joel Lahaye as the unscrupulous businessman, J.J. Peacham and Malika Averil as his avaricious wife, driven by the harsh necessities of survival. These two have the chemistry to bring levity to the grim Brechtian themes as much as any other performers on the stage.

Chris Harvey has a pleasant voice and works hard to be convincing in the central role of the nefarious Macheath (Mack the Knife). However, his wholesome demeanour makes the character come across as more charming than sinister. Nonetheless, his delivery of “Ballad of the Pleasant Life,” where he extols the virtue of having “bulging pockets” shows him at his campy best. I was given to wonder if Harvey’s sympathetic portrayal is a result of the director’s intent to realise Macheath as the people’s hero.

Macheath finds his sexual attentions torn between the coquettish Polly Peachum, delightfully played by Georgia Swinton, a winsome Lucy Brown (Sable Strub) and a churlish Jenny Diver (Jenny Moarse). All three girls get the opportunity to show off their vocal talent, with Swinton and Moarse giving separate and equally agreeable renditions of the the show-stopper, “Pirate Jenny.” (Those who have already seen the recently released film “Watchmen” will have heard the definitive interpretation of this song by Nina Simone).

Angela Bright’s clothing is spectacular and accurately characteristic of mid-nineteenth century, poverty-crippled London and adequately demonstrates the significant class difference of the era. They were created by students of the university’s Costuming for the Stage and Screen Program.

Gillian Barber, who hails from the same city in England’s West Midlands as myself, and can boast a large catalogue of acting credits does a remarkable job in the pacing of what is likely one of EXIT22’s most ambitious productions. Also, possibly special praise is in order for helping the cast in developing the credible working-class London accent.

© 2008 John Jane